Winterbourne Abbas is situated just south and west of Dorchester, it is natural to find barrows and burial mounds and it is thought that the Romans had a large camp here. Along the main road and fenced off are 'The Nine Stones' These are set in a circle and were probably a place of worship.
The Church of St. Mary with its 15th century tower is reached by crossing a little bridge. The fact that the church was one of the last in the country to have a band is commemorated by a memorial and an instrument which hangs on the wall. The nave has a gallery which projects over nearly half of it, and there is a crooked chancel.
With the Dissolution of the Monasteries the living was granted to Howard, Viscount Bindon, and eventually to Lincoln College, Oxford. Although there has been a church at Winterbourne Abbas since Saxon times, nothing of that original building remains except the base of the south wall. In 1894 the church was re-roofed with timber from New Zealand. One of the peal of bells bears the impress of a Plantagenet coin.
Reference was made earlier to the church band. Modern churchgoers seem to know little about this musical practice which was popular from the end of the 18th century till the end of the 19th. The Rev. John Bryant in the 1982 Dorset Year Book, gives some interesting facts about the custom and particularly the Winterbourne Abbas band.
Although the last Dorset band did not disappear until 1895, the Winterbourne group played their last notes in 1881. Organs, apparently had gone out of fashion, the villagers preferring the home spun music. The author referred to a three piece band. The Thatcher played the clarinet and acted as leader, a farm laborer was the flautist and the bass was in the hands of the shepherd. There was no violin because the parson said It 'savored of the public house' The band played at the west end of the church on a rising platform, the violin, cello and flute playing at a long desk on the lower steps, while the clarinet stood a step above flanked by the singers.
The most famous band in the valley was that of Winterbourne St. Martin. At one time the group consisted of four clarinets, a hautboy and a 'base-viol' The hautboy player was a mason who also blew the loud bassoon in the village band.
It is said that there is nothing new under the sun so perhaps we should not register surprise when pop groups strum their instruments in church today to the annoyance of traditionalists.